By Carolyn Marchetti
In just a few days, on March 14, I will join with my friends, colleagues and millions of others around the globe to celebrate Pi Day. For the uninitiated, Pi Day is an annual celebration that honors Pi, the numerical value of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.
Recognized by the United States House of Representatives in 2009, Pi Day shines a bright spotlight not only on Pi, but mathematics as a whole. Since the first known Pi Day event was held at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, math enthusiasts have gathered each year at sites around the world for activities and events that celebrate the significance of Pi and mathematics in our everyday lives.
Pi Day’s rise to prominence is a testament to the math community’s effort to make our discipline more accessible. Through fun activities such as pie baking and throwing contests, interactive circle puzzles, and engaging discussions on the circumference and areas of circles, for one day out of the year, Pi leaps out of the textbooks and into our everyday lives.
But shouldn’t every day be a celebration of the central role mathematics plays in our lives?
In this Information Age economy, jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are growing at a faster rate than in other sectors. In fact according to the Business Center for a College-and Career-Ready America, almost all of the 30 fastest growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM.
Likewise, employers in all industries are seeking job applicants skilled in analyzing information, collaborating, and problem solving. More than ever, Americans need to realize how important a solid grounding in mathematics is to our nation’s future.
As a former classroom math teacher, I believe the key to making every day Pi Day lies in changing the way students experience math in the classroom. Traditional methods of teaching math, which have largely followed the pattern of lectures and examples followed by repetitive algorithmic-based problems, are no longer effective. Students’ interactions with traditional math ‘practice’ questions regularly feature improbable scenarios and unrealistic examples, often leave children feeling more disengaged from mathematics than ever.
To change this paradigm and to better engage students in math education, we need to empower our educators with the sustained professional development to change their classroom practice, and new digital resources to engage students in learning.
To reignite students’ interest in math, we educators need to change our methods of instruction. We need to seek out new modes of instruction that promote student-centered learning. To accomplish this shift, school administrators need to offer all teachers the professional development and collaboration tools that will help them advance their methods of instruction and meet the needs of today’s learners. This professional development must be sustained and job-embedded, and enable educators to connect with each other and develop their own professional learning networks. The interactions occurring in these networks will empower educators to find and share common solutions to common challenges.
Equally important is the need to improve the core instructional materials our teachers are using daily in the classrooms across the country. Today’s students are different then those that preceded them in that they are completely at home in today’s media-driven society. Educators need to harness students’ familiarity and comfort with media to better engage them in math instruction.
Digital resources offer great opportunities to truly engage today’s students in math and STEM. Resources such as Defined STEM, PBL Works, and Dan Meyer’s Blog mirror students’ use of technology outside the classroom and support the development of the
skills needed for success in college and careers.
Most importantly, these digital STEM materials are inquiry-based and embedded with interactive lessons, projects, and multimedia that bring math to life. If we are really going to make each day a celebration of math’s connection to our everyday lives, we need to provide students with interactive real-world based projects which have a career focus. With dynamic digital resources, learning math is no longer a passive activity, but rather an immersive experience.
While I am looking forward to this year’s Pi Day, I have already started to fill in my calendar with a number of other mathematically themed celebrations. National STEM/STEAM day is on November 8, Fibonacci Day is November 23 (11/23), and the next Pythagorean Theorem Day will be 12/16/20. It is my hope that soon all educators, across the country, have the professional development and digital resources they need to make every day like Pi Day – a celebration of mathematics’ important role in our every day lives!
About the Author:
Carolyn Marchetti is currently a Director of Curriculum and Training at Defined Learning. She began her career in education as a mathematics teacher and has served as a Supervisor and Assessment Coordinator for math and science at the district and county levels. Carolyn has also served as a State Mathematics Advisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.